In Review

Film review: Nitram

Stark drama about a notorious gun massacre in Australia

This “thunderously powerful” film has caused considerable controversy in Australia, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail, and no wonder. It explores one of the country’s most notorious mass shootings, of 35 people at Port Arthur, in Tasmania, in 1996. “Dramatising the Dunblane massacre would have the same effect here”; but the subject matter is handled so intelligently that I, for one, am glad to have seen the film. Caleb Landry Jones gives a “stunning performance” as the killer, Martin Bryant, who was 28 when he went on the rampage, and who is only ever referred to in the film as Nitram, the nickname he acquired at school (his own name backwards). The film takes a “chilling look” at how his family and the wider community failed to identify him as dangerous, and how he was able to buy enough guns “to sustain a medium-sized militia”. The whole thing is “superbly” done.

Nitram is too smart a film to show the massacre, said Kevin Maher in The Times: it cuts to credits “as the first bullets are fired”. Director Justin Kurzel’s focus is on the “bleak biographical tendrils that combined to make a mass murderer”, and he presents Bryant’s “cold and unforgiving mother” (Judy Davis) and his “weak, biddable father” (Anthony LaPaglia), as “the worst possible parents” for a child with a clear taste for sadism. 

This is a “stark, difficult, but deeply reflective film”, said Clarisse Loughrey on The Independent. It asks “sincerely why we describe these crimes as incomprehensible”, even as “the same patterns unfold again and again”. The Port Arthur massacre led to a tightening of gun laws; but at the end of the film, we’re told no state is fully complying with them, raising the question: has Australia “really done what it needs to stop this from happening again?”

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